Chicago: Next Start-Up Capitol of the Midwest?

Developments in crowdfunding and new possibilities in technological fields have led to a recent start-up boom. Becoming the next start-up capitol could be the key to remaining a relevant and successful city, but does Chicago have what it takes? 

When it comes to start-ups, timing is everything according to Andy Bechtolsheim, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, as quoted in a recent blog post by entrepreneur Ian Cheng. Young companies might not realize how important it is to hit the sweet spot between product release and technological capabilities like broadband.  During the last internet boom, YouTube beat out competing video sites because they hit the market right when broadband was able to support information transfer at a user-friendly level. With the current flood of start-ups focused on iPad and mobile apps, the current start-up boom needs cities focused on developing ultra-broadband networks, and Chicago is doing everything it can to realize that goal though a host of new incubators have helped sparked recent developments.

The 1871 Chicago incubator references the Chicago Fire as a source of inspiration for businesses trying to bring forth the next stage of technological innovations. Just as the fire paved the way for a plethora of technological and industrial developments, the 1871 wants to pave the way on the barren technological landscape. “Chicago’s brightest digital designers, engineers and entrepreneurs are shaping new technologies, disrupting old business models, and resetting the boundaries of what’s possible.” The 1871 opened it’s door in Chicago’s historic Merchandise Mart just a few months ago but they are certainly in good company. Google will soon occupy the top three floors of the same building for their new Motorola offices. Although the start-ups came first, the Chicago government is taking steps to ensure the further development of a start-up haven.

Taking advantage of an enormous water distribution renovation, the city is investing funds in broadband and Wi-Fi infrastructure, perhaps trying to attract the attention of Google to vie for the next Google Fiber candidacy.  Although River North, home of Merchandise Mart, has long been technologically advanced, the city is still home to several under-developed neighborhoods. With the increase in Broadband, Mayor Emanuel hopes to revitalize these areas, mostly old industrial centers that once held the United States most important Stockyards and distribution hubs, spreading the hi-tech fever to benefit all of the city.

Chicago isn’t the only Midwest city vying for start-up stardom. Young entrepreneurs have been flooding to Detroit for a few years now and they have their own host of start-up accelerators like Bizdom, founded by by serial entrepreneur Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans. The non-profit Hudson Webber Foundation hopes to attract 15,000 young entrepreneurs to Detroit by the year 2015 and the city is helping by offering housing discounts to attract young people to areas like Midtown. Despite the perks, Detroit is still one of the most dangerous cities in the US, filled with abandoned buildings and a continually deceasing population, though the young people of the city certainly hope to change these trends.

Only time will tell if the start-up will tell if Chicago can become the start-up it hopes to be and if the 1871 will flourish. We certainly appreciate their emphasis on university students and fostering other soon-to-be entrepreneurs. While Chicago is notorious for educating brilliant students, only to have them leave for the coasts to find better work opportunities, the 1871 is already taking steps to aid university students. They’ll be hosting an event with Hirebrite on October 24 at Northwestern and plan to launch a university start-up competition this spring. The incubator also hosts a variety of events, as does the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, the non-profit behind the 1871. The next few years will play a big role in the development of a new tech culture in the US and hopefully Chicago will play a central role.

Do you think the city has a shot at becoming the next start-up capitol? What steps will it needs to take?

1 Comment

  1. This article asks several questions and specifically whether Chicago can be the start-up capitol of the midwest. I think clearly the answer is yes. So far, I am very impressed with the work and positioning from the mayor’s office along these lines: 1. Chicago is a world class, business friendly city to begin with, attracting more businesses into the city every day. 2. Several universities in Chicago have focused much energy in the entrepreneurship space, not just NU but also UIC and IIT. 3. As mentioned, the Chicago-land entrepreneurship center is a very strong organization and has many great initiatives and facilities in place. 4. 1871 is the most visible and prestigious incubator, symbolizing technology innovation and now sharing the same building with Motorola/Google mobility and bringing some 3000 technology focused employees to Chicago. 5. The mayor’s push for infrastructure improvements, especially broadband, will be a key differentiator in the future. 6. There are many more incubators and accelerators that werent even mentioned here, some in Evanston and affiliated with NU. Davis street alone has two incubators, one run by the city and another by NU.

    I hope all of the above highlights the direction that Chicago is taking. What needs to be added is more venture capital in a greater variety of industries. Some more recent startup successes are needed in Chicago. Lastly it would be good if Chicago could be branded with a particular type of start-up. Perhaps energy or smart-grid type start-ups could become the specialty branding that Chicago needs to truly earn the title.

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